Having arrived in Lycurgus about twenty-five years before with some capital and a determination to invest in a new collar enterprise which had been proposed to him, he had succeeded thereafter beyond his wildest expectations. And naturally he was vain about it. His family at this time – twenty-five years later – unquestionably occupied one of the best, as well as the most tastefully constructed residences in Lycurgus. They were also esteemed as among the few best families of this region – being, if not the oldest, at least among the most conservative, respectable and successful in Lycurgus. His two younger children, if not the eldest, were much to the front socially in the younger and gayer set and so far nothing had happened to weaken or darken his prestige.
On returning from Chicago on this particular day, after having concluded several agreements there which spelled trade harmony and prosperity for at least one year, he was inclined to feel very much at ease and on good terms with the world. Nothing had occurred to mar his trip. In his absence the Griffiths Collar and Shirt Company had gone on as though he had been present. Trade orders at the moment were large.
Now as he entered his own door he threw down a heavy bag and fashionably made coat and turned to see what he rather expected – Bella hurrying toward him. Indeed she was his pet, the most pleasing and different and artistic thing, as he saw it, that all his years had brought to him – youth, health, gayety, intelligence and affection – all in the shape of a pretty daughter.
“Oh, Daddy,” she called most sweetly and enticingly as she saw him enter. “Is that you?”
“Yes. At least it feels a little like me at the present moment. How’s my baby girl?” And he opened his arms and received the bounding form of his last born. “There’s a good, strong, healthy girl, I’ll say,” he announced as he withdrew his affectionate lips from hers. “And how’s the bad girl been behaving herself since I left? No fibbing this time.”
“Oh, just fine, Daddy. You can ask any one. I couldn’t be better.”
“And your mother?”
“She’s all right, Daddy. She’s up in her room. I don’t think she heard you come in.”
“And Myra? Is she back from Albany yet?”
“Yes. She’s in her room. I heard her playing just now. I just got in myself a little while ago.”
“Ay, hai. Gadding about again. I know you.” He held up a genial forefinger, warningly, while Bella swung onto one of his arms and kept pace with him up the stairs to the floor above.
“Oh, no, I wasn’t either, now,” she cooed shrewdly and sweetly. “Just see how you pick on me, Daddy. I was only over with Sondra for a little while. And what do you think, Daddy? They’re going to give up the place at Greenwood and build a big handsome bungalow up on Twelfth Lake right away. And Mr. Finchley’s going to buy a big electric launch for Stuart and they’re going to live up there next summer, maybe all the time, from May until October. And so are the Cranstons, maybe.”
Mr. Griffiths, long used to his younger daughter’s wiles, was interested at the moment not so much by the thought that she wished to convey – that Twelfth Lake was more desirable, socially than Greenwood – as he was by the fact that the Finchleys were able to make this sudden and rather heavy expenditure for social reasons only.
Instead of answering Bella he went on upstairs and into his wife’s room. He kissed Mrs. Griffiths, looked in upon Myra, who came to the door to embrace him, and spoke of the successful nature of the trip. One could see by the way he embraced his wife that there was an agreeable understanding between them – no disharmony – by the way he greeted Myra that if he did not exactly sympathize with her temperament and point of view, at least he included her within the largess of his affection.
As they were talking Mrs. Truesdale announced that dinner was ready, and Gilbert, having completed his toilet, now entered.
“I say, Dad,” he called, “I have an interesting thing I want to see you about in the morning. Can I?”
“All right, I’ll be there. Come in about noon.”
“Come on all, or the dinner will be getting cold,” admonished Mrs. Griffiths earnestly, and forthwith Gilbert turned and went down, followed by Griffiths, who still had Bella on his arm. And after him came Mrs. Griffiths and Myra, who now emerged from her room and joined them.
Once seated at the table, the family forthwith began discussing topics of current local interest. For Bella, who was the family’s chief source of gossip, gathering the most of it from the Snedeker School, through which all the social news appeared to percolate most swiftly, suddenly announced: “What do you think, Mamma? Rosetta Nicholson, that niece of Mrs. Disston Nicholson, who was over here last summer from Albany – you know, she came over the night of the Alumnae Garden Party on our lawn – you remember – the young girl with the yellow hair and squinty blue eyes – her father owns that big wholesale grocery over there – well, she’s engaged to that Herbert Tickham of Utica, who was visiting Mrs. Lambert last summer. You don’t remember him, but I do. He was tall and dark and sorta awkward, and awfully pale, but very handsome – oh, a regular movie hero.”
“There you go, Mrs. Griffiths,” interjected Gilbert shrewdly and cynically to his mother. “A delegation from the Misses Snedeker’s Select School sneaks off to the movies to brush up on heroes from time to time.”
Griffiths senior suddenly observed: “I had a curious experience in Chicago this time, something I think the rest of you will be interested in.” He was thinking of an accidental encounter two days before in Chicago between himself and the eldest son, as it proved to be, of his younger brother Asa. Also of a conclusion he had come to in regard to him.
“Oh, what is it, Daddy?” pleaded Bella at once. “Do tell me about it.”
“Spin the big news, Dad,” added Gilbert, who, because of the favor of his father, felt very free and close to him always.
“Well, while I was in Chicago at the Union League Club, I met a young man who is related to us, a cousin of you three children, by the way, the eldest son of my brother Asa, who is out in Denver now, I understand. I haven’t seen or heard from him in thirty years.” He paused and mused dubiously.
“Not the one who is a preacher somewhere, Daddy?” inquired Bella, looking up.
“Yes, the preacher. At least I understand he was for a while after he left home. But his son tells me he has given that up now. He’s connected with something in Denver – a hotel, I think.”
“But what’s his son like?” interrogated Bella, who only knew such well groomed and ostensibly conservative youths and men as her present social status and supervision permitted, and in consequence was intensely interested. The son of a western hotel proprietor!
“A cousin? How old is he?” asked Gilbert instantly, curious as to his character and situation and ability.
“Well, he’s a very interesting young man, I think,” continued Griffiths tentatively and somewhat dubiously, since up to this hour he had not truly made up his mind about Clyde. “He’s quite good-looking and well-mannered, too – about your own age, I should say, Gil, and looks a lot like you – very much so – same eyes and mouth and chin.” He looked at his son examiningly. “He’s a little bit taller, if anything, and looks a little thinner, though I don’t believe he really is.”
At the thought of a cousin who looked like him – possibly as attractive in every way as himself – and bearing his own name, Gilbert chilled and bristled slightly. For here in Lycurgus, up to this time, he was well and favourably known as the only son and heir presumptive to the managerial control of his father’s business,